Zip Tied – Genesis 13

 

one_way_or_anotherTo the dismay of teachers, and perhaps joy of parents, summer is quickly coming to an end. One thing I look forward to each summer is our annual road trip. If anything epitomizes the blessings of summer for me, it’s our annual road trip – adventure, open country, relaxed schedules. We had a great road trip this year, except for one glaring exception. We had a long day on the road and finally made it outside of Ogden, UT. We pitched our tent in a half full campground and then the boys and I took the bikes to explore and get a view of the Great Salt Lake. I was riding my wife’s very expensive mountain bike she got as a gift from her brother. The thing is super sweet, and probably costs more than our car. We returned to camp, and I locked up K8s bike to the grill, knowing that we would hear if someone was trying to take it. And so, tired from the day, we all crashed out and fell asleep to the noise of the camp. My sleep was interrupted, however, at 1am by k8 saying: Oh my goodness. Oh man. She whispered: Aaron! Wake up someone has zip tied our tent! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Zip ties, if you are not sure, are those strong hard plastic strips that permanently tie something to another thing, only to be broken by a knife or scissors. You use zip ties as a quick fix for a chain link fence or to attach a sign to pole, or the cops sometimes use them as handcuffs for folks in custody. Or in my case, you could zip tie 2 zippers together on a tent, thus trapping a sleeping family of 5 in their tent. Well this did not sit well with me. I am normally quite relaxed and able to think things through, but in that moment I freaked out, thinking someone was trying to take advantage of us. Thinking someone set us up so they could take K8s awesome bike, I grabbed the small space b/t the 2 zippers and ripped our tent open, and jumped out ready for action. I did a quick sweep of our campsite looking for the bad guys. I checked out all our stuff, which was fine. And then went back to check out our damaged tent. For the rest of the night, we were on watch. We were tired. We felt violated. We wondered if we should just remain, sitting and waiting for something to happen. We wondered if we should just pack up and leave in the middle of the night. Simply put, we felt insecure. In the end, we filed a report w/ the Ranger, and figured that it was just a couple brave rascals who were feeling mischievous. And in the end, I figured it would turn up as a sermon illustration some day. Well, today’s that day.

There are entire seasons for all of us when we feel like I did that night. We feel insecure or unsafe, fearful of the unknown. Scenarios of fight or flight go through our heads. We feel tempted to either stay in familiar but contentious situations; or, we feel tempted to simply take what we think would benefit us, while forgetting others. Either way, there are seasons where we feel anxious or fearful about what is around us.

I think that was potentially how Abram felt in Genesis 13. So grab a Bible and turn to Genesis 13. We have been looking this summer at the early accounts of Abram, and have been asking the question: Who is God, and who are we in relation to God?

 

Text

Genesis 13 comes after Abram and Sarai are returning from Egypt, where through some selfish scheming, Abram has acquired a great wealth from Pharaoh. Pharaoh discovers he has been tricked, and then has Abram and family escorted out of Egypt. So as we read Genesis 13, consider how secure Abram was feeling in the midst of this context and what he is now navigating. Was he feeling secure in his position or insecure?

13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

3 From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abrams herders and Lots. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

8 So Abram said to Lot: Lets not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Lets part company. If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left.

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him: Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.

18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

It is hard to say exactly how Abram was feeling in this passage. In the 1st part of chapter 12 we see that Abram encounters the living, powerful God, who initiates relationship w/ him. He calls Abram to leave his homeland and go to a place only known by God. Abram responds in obedience and he goes. God then promises Abram the land he is in, and Abram responds w/ worship. Abram is trusting his God for his security. In the 2nd part of chapter 12, it is as if Abram forgets his faith and then depends on himself. b/c of famine, Abram takes his family to Egypt. And knowing that powerful men often took the wives of lesser men, Abram has his wife tell a half-truth that she is his sister. Upon entering Egypt, Pharaoh sees her beauty and takes her into his harem, giving Abram a generous dowry of wealth. But God will not allow His people to be taken advantage of, and sends plagues upon Pharaohs house. And Pharaoh figures out what is going on and has Abram and family deported, w/ all their new wealth. But the famine is still happening. So what are they going to do now? Abrams security is slowly slipping away from him.

In our chapter we see Abram and clan return to the place of calling in the Promised Land. They return to Bethel. Bethel means House of God, and it was the region where God had promised the land to Abram in Genesis 12:8. This was a significant place. And I do not think that it was a coincidence that Abram landed in Bethel after his deception in Egypt. John Calvin says: That Abram should take such care indicated his desire to recover his experience with God; the fact that the old altar remained suggests the permanency of the promises. The patriarch’s newfound wealth did not distract him from his worship of the Lord.[1] Abram returns to the place where he encountered God, b/c he desired to reconnect, to refocus himself on God. And so in v. 4 it says he called on the name of the Lord. He returns to the altar and he worships. And by doing so, he plainly testified what God he worshipped. He worshipped the God of Promise, not the idols of the land.[2] We can imagine that as he worshipped, Abram recommitted himself to the God of Promise.

And at this point we are reminded that Lot was w/ Abram. Lot was Abrams nephew. When Lots father died, he was put in the care of his grandfather Terah. After the death of Terah, he joined his Uncle Abram in the journey to Canaan and subsequently to Egypt and back to Canaan.[3] By this time, Lot was growing up and acquired his own wealth. In fact, Abram and Lot each had so many things that the dry land could not support them all. And so disputes began b/t their houses. Lot and Abram were cool w/ each other, but b/c of the lack of resources during this famine, those directly under their houses got territorial, and fighting ensued. We are also told in v. 7 that the Canaanites and Perizzites were also there, meaning that even in the midst of this internal struggle, potential external enemies surrounded this great family, as well. Abram is getting pressure from every side. And he has to decide, will he stay in this familiar but contentious situations. Will he take the passive approach and allow both internal and external pressures to increase, for the sake of familiarity? Or will he feel tempted to quickly take what he thinks would benefit he and his family only, driving Lot away or raiding neighboring people unnecessarily? He was stuck b/t a rock and a hard place. Do you ever encounter those tough choices – to stay in conflict for the sake of familiarity? Or take a quick solution that would temporarily fix the situation? Abram must have been tempted to rely on his own wit to ensure temporary security.

But I think b/c Abram had reoriented himself to God in worship, having called out to God again in v. 4, he was able to wisely offer a 3rd solution. In vs. 8-9, we see Abram propose them splitting to save their relationship. And he graciously offers Lot the 1st choice. As Lots elder, he says: If you go one way I will go the other, thus relieving the tension, and maintaining good relationship. Lot surveys the land and chooses the fertile plains and settles among the cities, while Abram settles in the land of Canaan. So what was the difference of the 2 lands? In v. 10, the plains are compared to the Garden of Eden; they were perfect. So in contrast, the land of Canaan must have been viewed as the opposite, as a parched land plagued in famine. In accepting Abrams offer to choose the land 1st, Lot indirectly disrespects Abram. It is sort of like snagging the last piece of pizza at a hungry party, after Grandma (who has not eating anything) asks if you want it. That is a bad example but you get the point. Lot, in choosing this land, acts as the superior one, and places himself above others, above his elder. Calvin says that there is no doubt that this injustice pierced the mind of Abram, but Abram silently bore it, lest he should give the occasion for a new offence. As Lot jumps ahead of Abram in this manner, we get a picture of Lots character, which is contrasted by Abrams humility.[4] And so they parted ways.

God then honors Abram, and in v. 15 gives Abram and his seed the land as a permanent possession, promising to give him endless descendants. And how does Abram respond? In v. 18, Abram sets up camp and builds another altar and worships. In the midst of surely feeling insecure, splitting his family up for the sake of unity, surrounded by potential enemies, heading into a drought filled land -Abram chooses to worship.

The good news we see here is that in the midst of insecurity, God blesses His people w/ protection, provision and security. So, who are we in relation to God? We are secure. Even when we are surrounded by threats and resources are dry, we are secure b/c our God is good and is looking out for us.

 

Today

But the problem is that in the midst of those threats and dry resources, we cannot help but feel insecure. We feel tempted to take charge of our situations selfishly, whether passively or actively. We feel tempted to either stay in familiar but contentious situations, or we feel tempted to simply take and forget others, making sure we get what we think we need. When stormy waters surround us, we cannot help but feel insecure.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the great Scottish writer, tells of a storm that caught a vessel off a rocky coast and threatened to drive it and its passengers to destruction. In the midst of the terror, one daring man, contrary to orders, went to the deck, made a dangerous passage to the pilothouse. Once he got there the man saw the steerman, at his post holding the wheel unwaveringly, and inch by inch, turning the ship out, once more, to sea. The pilot saw the watcher and smiled. And then, the daring passenger made the dangerous trip back from the pilothouse and went below deck. All the other passengers gathered around the man, anxious for the news. And the man gave a note of cheer, saying: I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well. Despite the surrounding storm, the captain of this ship smiled at the worried passenger, b/c the captain knew that all was well. And the man, having total trust in the capabilities of this captain rested and had peace.

You know, it is real easy for me to stand here and give you the pat answer that all is well, when I have no idea what season you are in. I do not know the struggles you are facing, or the things you have to put up w/. When it is 1am and your metaphorical tent has been zip tied, and you are feeling insecure and fearful, and you are faced w/ easy temptations of temporary self-preservation, sometimes an encouragement of Gods security may feel insincere and naïve. It is true, I do not know what storm you are in, but I know my own season of insecurity, not knowing if certain income streams and housing will remain, not knowing what the future will bring, but only knowing the potential enemies of discouragement and temptations of easy, but temporary self-preservation. I do not know the storms around you, but I know the ones around me, and my community, and I am here to tell you today that I have seen the face of the Captain, and He is smiling. In the face of our insecurities and fear, the good news is that God blesses His people w/ protections, provision and security. We ARE secure in Jesus Christ. And as we choose to ignore the temptations of going our own way, and instead choose to worship the God of Promise, in the midst of it all, we have peace and can trust.

My prayer for us is that we would not see this as a naïve, pat answer. But as the trustworthy, genuine gospel of grace. My prayer is that in the dark morning of a zip tied tent, you would choose to trust in the God of Promise, fighting to keep faith, praying for the dawn to come, knowing the dawn will come. Our God is good, and may He bless us w/ His peace and security.

Amen.

 

[1] Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B, pp. 133–134). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] John Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis, p. 368-369

[3] Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 826). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 13:13). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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